What is Ambien
Ambien is one of the brand names for zolpidem, along with Edluar, Zolpimist, and Intermezzo. It is a prescription drug used to temporarily treat insomnia and is one of the top-selling insomnia drugs in the United States. Ambien is available in two forms: Ambien, a quick-release tablet that helps initiate sleep, and Ambien CR, an extended-release form that also helps maintain sleep.
Ambien was developed to help treat insomnia short-term, with the same efficacy as benzodiazepines but as a seemingly less addictive alternative. However, Ambien’s addictiveness comes not from a physical dependency to the drug, but from the sudden dependency on the drug to sleep. From just some short-term abuse, user can find themselves with a real inability to fall asleep without higher and higher doses.
Street names for Ambien include:
- Zombie pills
How Does Ambien Affect the Brain
Working as a sedative-hypnotic, Ambien activates the neurotransmitter, GABA. GABA slows down brain and central nervous system activity, and results in a strong sedative effect. This helps put insomnia sufferers to sleep quickly and effectively.
Is Ambien Addictive
Although created to have the same medical effect as benzodiazepines, and reportedly without the same addictive properties, users are still at risk of developing an addiction.
If taken exactly as prescribed, for a very brief period, Ambien is relatively safe. However, with long-term use, there is a potential for abuse and addiction. Once the user takes Ambien for longer than prescribed by their physician, they will need higher doses to feel the same effects. Eventually, they will be unable to sleep without using Ambien.
Ambien dependence can form in as little as two weeks. Because it is a prescription drug, there is a misconception that Ambien is safe. However, it is becoming more clear that Ambien is just as addictive as benzodiazepines. As with many other types of sleeping pills, Ambien can be very addictive.
Signs of Ambien Addiction
It can be hard to tell if a person is abusing Ambien, especially if they have a legitimate prescription from their doctor.
Here are some warning signs of Ambien addiction to look out for:
- Taking Ambien in a way other than prescribed, such as crushing and snorting pills
- Taking Ambien that was prescribed to someone else
- Repeatedly taking larger and more frequent doses than prescribed
- Appearing overly sleepy or tired during the day
- Frequently requesting refills on the prescription or finding a new doctor to get a new prescription
- Lying about Ambien use
- Noticeable changes in behavior like isolating oneself from family and friends
- Spending large amounts of money on Ambien, or unexplained spending
- Experiencing cravings for Ambien
- Engaging in dangerous situations without any memory of them later
- Taking the drug in conjunction with other mind-altering substances
Taking Ambien without a prescription or in any way that is not directed by a doctor is considered abuse. Even taking a slightly higher dose than recommended, to help with sleep, is abuse. Once someone builds up a tolerance to Ambien, they need higher doses to fall asleep. This strengthens their dependence on the drug and causes individuals to up their doses without any medical guidance.
Side-Effects of Ambien Addiction
Ambien is supposed to be taken right before bed, but people abusing this sleeping pill will take it at any time of day. When not used as a sleep aid, Ambien produces calming effects and feelings of euphoria.
As a potent central nervous system depressant, Ambien, in large doses, can slow a user’s breathing and heart rate to a point where respiratory failure occurs. This could result in a fatal overdose. An unusually slow heartbeat or breathing is a strong indication that the user is in trouble.
One SAMHSA study showed that in 2010 alone, there were 20, 793 visits to the emergency department of hospitals throughout America due to Ambien overdose.
Some additional side-effects of Ambien include:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Rare allergic reactions
- Trouble breathing
If your doctor has prescribed Ambien, it is because they have judged that the benefit is greater than the risk of side-effects. Many people using Ambien do not experience any serious side-effects. Unpleasant and dangerous side-effects of Ambien use are usually only seen in cases of abuse or addiction.
Ambien and Alcohol
There are many prescription and illicit drugs that have adverse reactions when taken with Ambien. However, alcohol is the substance most commonly abused alongside Ambien. People who consume alcohol and Ambien together are more likely to end up in intensive care.
When mixed together, alcohol and Ambien can enhance each other’s intoxicating effects to result in the following:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired cognition
- Loss of physical coordination
- Impaired judgment
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Depressed breathing
- Sleep apnea
Combining Ambien and alcohol can also have more dangerous effects as a result of reckless behaviour, and the loss of coordination that results from this combination. Users are more likely to be involved in accidents, or hurt themselves losing consciousness.
Ambien Addiction Treatment
In order to recover from Ambien addiction, the user needs to fight physical and psychological dependence. The first step in any treatment for recovery from addiction is medical detox. This is then followed by a range of therapy types, often to treat any co-occurring mental health disorders and to ensure a minimized risk of relapse.
To stand the greatest chances of success in recovery, the user should receive treatment as an inpatient at a registered rehab center. The center will provide the support and environment the patient needs to undergo detox safely, and receive the therapy they require to make a full recovery.
Detox from Ambien
To begin Ambien addiction treatment, the patient will need to undergo a medically-assisted detox. This usually involves tapering down dosage of the drug until it is stopped entirely. Ambien detox should only be done in an inpatient rehab facility, to prevent the risk of relapse caused by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Ambien withdrawal can cause unpleasant symptoms as the brain tries to function normally once again. As with any drug abuse, the withdrawal effects are usually opposite to its effects when used.
Symptoms of Ambien withdrawal begin within 48 hours of the last dose and includes:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Flushing of the skin
- Stomach cramps
- Seizures (rare)
Stopping Ambien abruptly will lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms. This is why inpatient medical detox is recommended, to ensure that the user is weaned off Ambien in a measured and safe way.
Ambien Withdrawal Timeline
Withdrawal symptoms usually lessen or disappear within 1-2 weeks. The most acute withdrawal symptoms kick in within the first 3-5 days, while the psychological withdrawal symptoms last up to two weeks. In rare cases, symptoms can occur months after stopping Ambien use.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms vary for each individual due to several factors and includes:
- The length of Ambien abuse
- The dosage
- Whether or not the Ambien was the extended-release version
- If the individual took other drugs in addition to Ambien
Medication for Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
A doctor may prescribe psychiatric treatments for depression or anxiety related to Ambien withdrawal, but there are also a few drugs that treat symptoms caused as a direct result of Ambien withdrawal. In some cases, anti-seizure medication is given to reduce the risk of seizures.
Those experiencing severe anxiety or suicidal thoughts are likely to receive short-term prescriptions for mood-stabilizing medications.
Therapies Used in Ambien Addiction Treatment
After completing detox, therapeutic treatment will commence. The right treatment center will create a tailored plan for the patient’s individual needs. Talk therapy will be provided, as well as group, and even family therapy.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): A common type of individual psychotherapy that helps patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are likely to use drugs.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): Another type of one-on-one psychotherapy that helps individuals learn new skills and strategies for coping with life outside of addiction. The goal of this therapy is to create positive and impactful change.
- Family therapy: Used to help families support the recovery of the patient, as well as to help heal the damage caused by addiction within the family unit.
- Group therapy: Programs such as Narcotics Anonymous are used to provide ongoing support for the patient, in a supportive environment. Group therapy sessions will usually be ongoing, in order to prevent relapse and to foster a sense of community with likeminded people.
Recovery from Ambien Addiction
Inpatient rehab at a specialized treatment center will ensure the patient has the biggest chance of success. Rehab will be centered on a strict routine, including therapy and other types of treatment.
It is crucial that the right treatment center, offering a personalized treatment plan, is provided to the addict. One where the individual’s unique needs are addressed and the nuances of their addiction are taken into account.